Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, announced today that that the total official number of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges for Fiscal Year 2009 now stands at 443. The annual fiscal year “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharge statistic combines the total number of discharges reported by the Department of Defense, which was 428, with the total number of discharges reported by the Department of Homeland Security for the Coast Guard, which was 15. This brings the official 17-year total, according to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, to 13,425 discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“As expected, this record low in total annual ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ discharge numbers reflects a continuing downward trend, as military commanders continue to ignore this law that is clearly outdated and which impairs their unit readiness,” said Alexander Nicholson, a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the current Executive Director of Servicemembers United. “But this new number still means that 443 lives were unnecessarily turned upside down in 2009, 443 careers were unfairly terminated, and military units unexpectedly lost a valuable asset 443 times last year as two wars raged.”
Although only 443 total discharges are included in the official statistic for fiscal year 2009, the true number of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges is very likely higher. When pressed by Servicemembers United, the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Freedom of Information Office confirmed on three separate occasions in late 2009 and early 2010 that the internal source of their annual “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharge numbers is the Defense Manpower Data Center, and that Defense Manpower Data Center statistics do not include discharges from the Reserves or the National Guard.
On this revelation, Nicholson added, “It is indeed surprising to learn now that the annual discharge numbers have been underreported. Policy makers, the media, and the American public rely on these numbers to make decisions and judgments about the costs of this policy. The Reserves and the National Guard have been especially active since September 11th, 2001 and their numbers have swelled, so it is highly probably that the discharge numbers from these two additional Activities are significant.”
The discrepancies are likely attributable to both a lack of knowledge about internal Defense Department information reporting structures within the advocacy organizations that usually request the annual data, and to a failure on the part of the Department of Defense to proactively disclose the fact that the way in which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharge numbers have been requested in the past may not have automatically prompted the release of the total numbers of discharges each year.
The Department of Defense in general – and the Defense Manpower Data Center specifically – has consistently failed to disclose full information and data related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” discharges in blatant violation of the Freedom of Information Act. In response to one request for information by Servicemembers United in mid-2009, the Department of Defense took more than twice the amount of time allowable by law to produce less than one-tenth of one percent of the requested data – data that was not classified and not protected by the Privacy Act. Information requests from members of Congress, including House Armed Services Committee members, have also been only partially filled.